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Robotic Octopus Swims Like a Natural

Sep 25, 2014 04:58 PM EDT
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Researchers investigating robotic locomotion recently took a tiny mechanical swimmer to the sea for the first time, testing how well it can swim in real churning waters. The robot, inspired by the "sculling" motion of octopus, boasts eight legs and can even slowly crawl along the ocean floor.
(Photo : FORTH Institute of Computer Science)

Researchers investigating robotic locomotion recently took a tiny mechanical swimmer to the sea for the first time, testing how well it can swim in real churning waters. The robot, inspired by the "sculling" motion of octopus, boasts eight legs and can even slowly crawl along the ocean floor.

That's at least according to a paper recently presented at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Chicago.

According to the robot's creators, most traditional aquatic robotics take inspiration from the ocean's swiftest swimmers, such as dolphins, fish, and even eels. But what about the nimble and clever octopus? The researchers, from the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH) in Greece, have apparently been studying locomotion and other aspects of the octopus for some time, and the ultimate result is a soft-armed robot that can gracefully coast through the water.

"The final robotic octopus will be capable of locomotion on different substrates, of dexterous manipulation by coordinating the flexible eight arms, or of anchoring in order to exert forces on external environment varying arms stiffness," the team behind the OCTOPUS program reports.

In other words, the robot will eventually be able to measure how hard it presses against the ocean current or floor, and navigate through the water by feeling for ideal resistances - kind of like how professional swimmer Michael Phelps feels around with his fingertips as he races.

Even now, the robot looks to be a proficient swimmer, using flexible silicone "tentacles" attached with stretching webbing.

According to the researchers, since upgrading their robot with these flexible components, the robot's movements have doubled in speed.

You can watch a video of the robot in action below, as provided by FORTH via IEEE Spectrum.

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